‘Maestro’: Why Steven Spielberg Asked Bradley Cooper to Direct & Star in Leonard Bernstein Biopic

Producer Steven Spielberg and Writer/Director/Producer Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein on the set of 'Maestro.'
Jason McDonald/Netflix
TV Insider Magazine December 2023 cover

TV Insider

December 2023 Issue

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When Steven Spielberg is too busy to direct a film and asks you to do it, the answer is always yes.

That said, getting that green light to both helm and star in Maestro, a drama about the life of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, wasn’t a tough call for Bradley Cooper. What sold Spielberg? Originally tapped only to star as Bernstein, Cooper got both jobs after Spielberg watched an early cut of his directing debut, the popular, music-centered 2018 drama A Star Is Born.

Once he got the baton, Cooper centered his tale of Bernstein—whose score for West Side Story remains a cultural fixture—on the conductor’s complicated but loving marriage to actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn (Carey Mulligan).

“It was an unorthodox, genuine love that I found endlessly intriguing,” Cooper has said. The composer’s bisexuality caused a rift for the pair, but a cancer diagnosis for Felicia brought them back together.

Cooper also consulted Bernstein’s children and was allowed to film at the family’s Connecticut home. “They went way above and beyond. That’s the only reason why the movie was able to be so authentic,” he said.

Authenticity was key, with the composer’s works serving as the film’s score, and Cooper spending hours in the makeup chair to get the right look. All to capture a man who, as producer Amy Durning put it, was “intoxicating as a human being. People tried to define him over and over again, and he resisted. He wanted it all.”

Maestro, Premieres Wednesday, December 20, Netflix

This is an excerpt from TV Insider’s December issue. For more in-depth, reported coverage devoted to streaming shows from the publishers of TV Guide Magazine, pick up the issue, currently on newsstands, or purchase it online here. You can also subscribe to TV Insider Magazine here now.


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